The Chilean trade policy over the last 30 years has opened the nation up to international markets of both goods and services. Evidence of this are the more than 30 trade agreements and free trade areas that link Chile to 65 economies worldwide, representing 65% of the population and 88% of the global GDP. These include agreements with the United States, the European Union, China, Japan, and South Korea. Chile is also an active member of several trade-related international organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Pacific Alliance (PA) and the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI).
Domestically, the central macro-zone, which covers the regions of Valparaíso, O’Higgins, and Metropolitan Santiago, represents nearly 63% of the population and 56% of the national GDP, triggering significant port activity in the area. The Port of San Antonio, the main cargo transfer port for the macro-zone and for the entire country, has moved over 22 million tons in the last 5 years, accounting for 19% of national exports and 48% of the imports, in terms of value.
This foreign trade acceleration has, in turn, meant more containerized cargo movement and associated port expansion projects, both in Puerto San Antonio and Puerto Valparaíso. Official port-related cargo transfer estimates indicate that public port capacity in the area, approximately 4.5 million TEUs, will be surpassed in the next decade.
New infrastructure, including seawalls and terminals to handle larger vessels, is necessary in view of growing demand and changes in the shipping industry.
As part of the national port expansion policy, in 2018 the Chilean government awarded the Outer Harbor Project to Puerto San Antonio, turning it into the largest container transfer site in the country, with the largest port infrastructure. The project involved construction of a new specialized port adjacent to the south end of the current port of San Antonio, capable of moving 6 million TEUs per year at two container cargo terminals, specifically 3 million TEUs each. The Outer Harbor will be developed in phases, as demand evolves. The first vessel is expected to arrive in late 2035, and expansion is planned to continue in discrete units of 1.5 million TEUs every four or five years, ending the construction around the year 2050.
The Outer Harbor seawall, the largest port infrastructure work in the country, will be 4,000 meters long, with a variable height of 4.4 to 5.5 meters above sea level, and a variable width, measured from the base, of 100 to 200 meters. Depth will depend on the section, but will average – 20 meters. It is designed to withstand a 9.0 earthquake with epicenter near the port. Wave height design is specified at 8.5 meters, with a 450-year returned period.
The Outer Harbor will feature semi-automated terminals — the first in Chile — allowing four container vessels, up to 15,000 TEUs each, to dock simultaneously at each terminal. Additionally, each will have state-of-the-art electronic and electrical equipment and a cargo transfer railway terminal, with five tracks and RMG cranes capable of moving by rail up to 40% of the port cargo.
Total investment in the project amounts to $3.8 billion (USD), of which $1.35 billion will be financed by the State of Chile through Empresa Portuaria San Antonio, in the form of traditional public works, particularly for seawall, dredging and access activities. The terminals themselves, a public-private partnership, must comply with port concession legislation. The overall investment in both terminals is approximately $2.45 billion (USD). The Ministry of Public Works and the National Railway Company are coordinating projects to connect the port with the main production and consumption areas in the central macro-zone.
Currently in the permitting process, a second addendum is under development based on the comments and observations from the Authorities to ensure compliance with national environmental standards.
Puerto San Antonio has a dual commitment for this project: first, to develop the port infrastructure necessary for economic growth and local, regional, and national job creation; and, second, to acknowledge that new infrastructure will significantly impact the environment and the quality of life of Chileans. As part of the environmental and social permitting process, Puerto San Antonio has agreed to a series of mitigation, restoration, and compensation measures to ensure environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and economic viability of the Outer Harbor, considering the country’s economic growth over the next 70 years. The Project’s social return is estimated to exceed 60%, a figure unlikely to be matched by other projects in the country.
Puerto San Antonio, the largest port in Chile today — moving twice as much cargo as the second largest, Valparaíso — has several concession contracts expiring in the near future and will be able to move four times as much cargo once all berthing sites are operational.